However, giving corporations the power of censorship can jeopardize political advocates whose only tool to spread awareness is the Internet.
An account called @hannoverticker was identified as pro-Nazi and considered threatening by the German government, whose concern about Nazism is understood and supported. However, the government’s request that Twitter directly intervene opened a myriad of questions surrounding Twitter’s gain of power to control freedom of speech.
Such a “country-withheld content” policy is dangerous because it sets the precedent for corporations to gain censorship power in accordance with governmental policies.
As an attempt to be clear about the measures taken, Twitter posted online the German government’s request to shut the pro-Nazi account. Nonetheless, it is questionable whether the police should have asked the company to shut it down. As shown in the New York Times, Stephen Porada, a writer for the German online magazine Netzwelt, said “anyone with a little knowledge can get around it with a proxy server.”
Because the policy may be used to block content considered threatening or lawless according to the country of origin, authoritarian countries can abuse power to demand removal of unwanted commentary on controversial topics like fighting for women’s rights in Iraq or democracy in Egypt, thus defeating the website’s purpose to share information.
In attempting to act in accordance with the will of other governments, Twitter can end up compromising service quality and infringing on freedom of speech while abiding by potentially censorial government restrictions. And as an added effect, the Internet would lose one of its greatest political tools.
This article was published on the Neon Tommy website in June 2013.
Brazil has once again disappointed, not its spectators from afar, but its citizens who daily breathe the corrupted air. After a couple of weeks of protests against an increase in bus fares and other suffocating and intolerable conditions, the government prefers to call its citizens “vandals” and “hooligans.”
The demonstrations began on June 6 and have continued up to Sunday. São Paulo has been the focus but other marches have taken places in Rio de Janeiro, Goiânia, Porto Alegre and other cities.
These protests have mostly been led by university students, workers who depend on public transportation and members of an organization called Free Fare Movement, which advocates for lowering bus fares.
The municipal and state governments declare that these citizens are just “vandals” and “hooligans” and that their complaints won’t be heard. São Paulo Governor Geraldo Alckmin requested that police troops be reinforced, while São Paulo Mayor Fernando Haddad said that violence would not be tolerated.
Meanwhile, policemen have relied on nothing but violence to suppress the protest. Citizens find themselves having to either live with the pain of taking unreliable and expensive public transit every day, or being attacked by policemen.
Rather than take this corrupt government at its word, I suggest that we look into the facts, so that we can clearly identify the reasons for these marches.
The bus fare has increased from R$3 reais to R$3.20 reais (approximately US$1.40 to US$1.50). Although the increase may seem insignificant, the monthly minimum wage in Brazil is R$678, which converts to a meager US$316.5. (US$3,800 annually). In a country where the inflation rate has oscillated between 5.8 and 6.5 percent in the past couple of years, every penny counts.
The quality of bus services only adds insult to injury. Public transportation in São Paulo, like in many other Brazilian cities, is not only inefficient but also unsafe.
In April, a bus driver was beaten and robbed while driving a route that connected to cities near Greater São Paulo. The driver complained in an interview, “It’s tough to work like this. You leave for work and don’t know if you’ll come back alive.” None of the criminals who attacked him were arrested.
Government officials and upper-middle class citizens who oppose these protests have also complained that protesters only destroy public buildings and promote violence.
But in fact, the real destruction seems to have been provoked by policemen. You can look at apicture of a woman being beaten by the police and a man who held flowers as a symbol of peace during confrontations.
Several videos prove that soldiers attacked protesters while the latter peacefully stood and shouted “no violence.”
Journalists and other professionals not involved in the protest were also injured. Seven journalists representing Folha, a reputable Brazilian newspaper, were hit; two of them injured by a rubber bullet in the head, and one was beaten by the police. A photographer was also shot and is at risk of becoming blind.
Elio Gaspari and Rita Lisauskas, both journalists, witnessed the protest yesterday and both stated that the police began confrontations and vandalism, throwing bombs and shooting at people despite no aggression from protesters.
Several students have written testimonies about confrontations with the police. João Victor, a journalism student at the Anhembi Morumbi University, recounted on Facebook, “After protests and confrontations, we left for the subway station. More police arrived. Workers, college students, children and women were entering the station, but still the police threw a bomb inside, in our subway station. They didn’t want us to go home; they wanted to injure and arrest us. Inside the station, safety guards cried and people fainted on the stairs. I cried as well.”
Personally, I find it revolting that the police suddenly appeared when citizens decided to express their disgust over the government. Brazilian police are famous for their lack of efficiency, always arriving late to protect common citizens and constantly ignoring political corruption. I can’t help but wonder, where were these policemen when shootings, robberies, and kidnappings were taking place?
These protests bring attention to more than public transportation. They also serve as a challenge to a mercenary government that misspends its citizens’ tax money.
Food prices go up every day while corrupt politicians act with impunity. A congressman has been accused of stealing money from government funds to build a castle for his family, several politicians closed a deal of monthly payments in exchange for political support for years, a businessman got involved in government corruption and organized crime. None of these leaders have been punished.
But for the common citizens, who are afraid of being robbed after leaving work, and having their children kidnapped on the way home from school, all they get is a label calling them “vandals” and “hooligans.”
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly listed the previous cost of bus fare in São Paulo as US$1.20 instead of US$1.40. The story has been updated with the correct number.
This article was published on the Neon Tommy website in November 2012.
In August, Brazil implemented one of the most radical affirmative action laws in South America. It reserves 50 percent of spots in public universities for public high school students who are also economically underprivileged minorities.
The argument presented by the Brazilian Senate, and unanimously supported by the Supreme Court, is that Brazil needs to make up for historical injustices against blacks and Brazilian Indians. Because the current majority of college students come from private high schools, the government has decided to institute this affirmative action law to include more students from the public education system in public universities.
However, there are two substantial problems with the reasoning behind this radical affirmative action law. First, Brazil is so racially mixed and diverse that it becomes nearly impossible to prove whether someone is black or white (with the exception of the south, which is mostly occupied by European descendants). Second, and most aggravating, public high school students are usually rejected from public universities not because they are being discriminated against, but because public schools offer unbelievably poor and defective education that does not prepare students for higher academic learning.
Brazil is one of the most racially diverse countries in the world: with a population of 196 million people, Brazil has the greatest population of Africans outside of Africa, yet more than half of the population is of European descent. It is no surprise, then, that around two-fifths of the Brazilian population is composed of mulatos (people mixed of African and European descent) and mestiços (people of mixed European and Indian descent).
The immense ethnic diversity in Brazil presents a challenge in determining which people are white or black, because most are mixed, and it is rare to find homogeneously afro- or caucasian-Brazilian families. The differentiation between pardos (people of mixed ethnicities) and blacks is very subjective and self-attributed, leading many Brazilians to consider themselves pardos to their advantage.
This poses serious challenges to affirmative action laws that base university entrances on race, because Brazilians can so easily swing between ethnicity claims. According to theBrazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), more people have claimed to be black or mixed-race in 2010 than previous years, when the majority considered themselves white.
The possibility of changing one’s mind about one’s race clearly shows that most Brazilians are neither solely black nor solely white – they are both. Thus, setting aside 50 percent of spots in public universities for blacks, Indians and pardos makes little sense, since most of the population falls into mixed categories.
Some Brazilian universities that offer racial quotas have dealt with serious controversy surrounding the issue. In 2007, the identical twins Alex and Alan Teixeira, who have a white mother and a black father, applied to the competitive University of Brasilia (UnB) through its quota system, which exclusively takes race into account, ironically ignoring socioeconomic factors. The alarming result was that Alan, considered black, was accepted but Alex, considered white, wasn’t.
The determination of race in Brazil is too subjective and can consequently create more injustices than remedies for societal issues. The new law will encourage more public high school students to enter universities based on their skin color – a factor not influential on one’s intellectual abilities – than based on their merits.
It would be an erroneous generalization to affirm that Brazil does not suffer from racism. However, racism in such a mixed country has different implications than in a country like the United States, which has a history of segregation that contributed to distinctive cultural differences between races. Brazilians of different ethnicities have long coexisted with similar cultural values. The greatest differences in Brazil are regional and socioeconomic: people from the Amazon greatly differ from people from the South because of different geographic and societal circumstances, while the rich are offered opportunities nonexistent to the poor.
Racism serves as a simplistic explanation for inequalities caused by much more urgent factors, like the lack of education across the country. Affirmative action laws become effective tools for politicians to portray the government as proactive toward social and racial inclusion, when in fact they are obscuring Brazil’s most urgent problem: a defective and unsuccessful public education system.
Although public universities are considered the best and most competitive higher-education institutions in Brazil, the rest of Brazil’s public education system has blatantly failed over the years. An astounding degree of government corruption often impedes investments in education, leaving public schools’ infrastructure to deteriorate, teachers’ salaries too low or even delayed, and students’ resources limited. As a consequence, many schools decide to strike against the government to protest against unfair working conditions, leaving students with long and unexpected school breaks.
Because of the inadequate investment in public education at the elementary and high school levels, public students do not attain the same level of knowledge that private school students do, which impedes public school students from performing as well in higher education. A study done by the Brazilian Ministry of Education (MEC) has calculated students’ learning knowledge of specific subjects on a grading scale from 0 to 500. Junior high students from private schools scored 298.42 in mathematics, while high school students from public schools scored 265.38. High school students from private institutions scored a much higher 332.89.
Admitting unprepared applicants into public universities is therefore not the wisest approach to Brazil’s educational gap between public and private schools. The government must invest in education, starting with elementary grades, instead of promoting ways to shovel students with serious learning faults into public universities.
Brazil suffers much more from economic inequalities than from racism. Socioeconomic backgrounds should be considered in order to level the competition between privileged students from private academic institutions and underprivileged students from public schools who have not been given as many opportunities to sharpen their academic skills.
Different from the newly implemented quota, better approaches, like that of the University of São Paulo (USP) should be implemented. The university offers bonus points on the entrance exams of students from the public education system, but does not reserve spots based on socioeconomic or racial backgrounds. The goal is to admit students only by merit, while acknowledging the disparities between private education privileges and public education deficiencies.
In the long run, this new affirmative action law will impact Brazilian higher education more negatively than positively, possibly lowering the institutions’ education quality, by not basing admissions to underprivileged students on their academic abilities.
With these new laws, private school students will likely also be discouraged from attending public universities, and will slowly shift to attending private universities, thus perpetuating the economic separation between lower-income students and higher-income students. Public school students may once again end up isolated from more qualified students. The most effective solution to these inequalities is to improve public education, not to offer alternative ways to get into college primarily other than merit.
This article was published in the Wall Street Journal Classroom Edition in April 2013
College is like being a leader in a circus performance: You must juggle balls, tease lions and eat fire. But if you want to impress the audience, you multitask: juggle balls while making gymnastics moves, swallow a sword while teasing a lion and eat fire while hanging upside down.
That is, assuming you’re interested in doing that much work.
Freshman year has mostly been an experiment at finding out what I really want to pursue, trying many activities at once. Writing for multiple newspapers, learning a third language, taking a shot at comparative literature, and so on. But after much academic degustation, the answer to that colossal question, “what do I want to do with my life?” remained the same, except with greater emphasis.
After writing way too many academic papers in a couple of months, sending way too many internship applications for “real-world jobs” and immersing way too much in my compelling third language, I sat down last Friday and wrote fiction stories. Fiction stories! What I love to do.
The point is: college provides many opportunities to try new things out, change your mind about passions and aspirations. But once you find what you absolutely love to do, stop right there! Don’t let it go; don’t get too caught up in the bureaucracies of life. Find time to indulge in your passion.
I stopped my busy self last Friday, sat down and focused on fiction writing. No worries about the “real world,” no worries about the 827 other activities to engage in. And on that Friday, I felt an unsurpassable degree of certainty and accomplishment that made me want to pursue nothing but what I love most.
This article was published in the Wall Street Journal Classroom Edition in March 2013.
Waves perpetually ripple in the ocean. Sometimes they are short and fast, sometimes they’re long and slow, but they always reach the sandy surface and crash along the way, dying down at the shore. Wave sounds depend on the waves’ intensity and frequency: sometimes, the sounds are formed steadily and repetitiously, one wave crashing after the other, the tchum reverberating through the beach. But sometimes the sounds are formed intermittently, and a quiet silence of five seconds or less bridges one tchum to the other.
The college rhythm works much like waves in the ocean. Some days are so busy with incessant tasks that there are no pauses or breaks between one event and another. Other days are irregular and you may find some time here and there to breathe. But no matter what type of day you have, one event is always bound to happen: the invariable crash of the waves, whether they’re booming achievements or thunderous setbacks.
My weeks of February flowed much like the wave tides of the sea: one week very harmonious, the next very turbulent. On my first week, I had plenty of reading to do but I read a book for one class, and some short stories and excerpts for two other classes. I kept up with my newspaper deadlines, and attended weekly club meetings. I practiced French and wrote for my Journalism class. During the weekend, I went to a mandatory college retreat up in Santa Barbara, a couple of hours away from USC, and immersed myself in meaningful discussions about class in America, but also in a lot of fun at the beautiful resort. My college week went as ideally expected: work hard, play hard.
However, the following week was nothing but frantic. As soon as I arrived back from the retreat on Sunday afternoon, I wrote an English paper due the next day. Then on Monday, I wrote another Literature paper due on Tuesday, and on Tuesday, another one due on Thursday. Because I spent most of my time writing thirty pages in four days, the rest of my homework got delayed: readings, two midterm reviews (for Thursday!), newspaper articles, and so on. You may think I should have worked on my papers the week before, but unless I ignored all my homework due that week, I could do nothing more than outline them, which I did.
Two more weeks followed in the same fashion: one balanced, the other completely unstable. When I thought I had figured out the best plan to tackle my academics and personal life, circumstances changed and consequently altered the outcome of my plans. The turbulence overwhelmed me at times: I did not know whether I’d be able to get everything done, and I felt as if I had lost control over my time. I was pressured from two sides: my academics stacking over in multitudes of assignments, and my personal life yelling for a break and time to catch up with friends.
The last Tuesday of the month seemed to be my worst day. Nothing went right and my 200-page reading due the next day (not considering other homework) couldn’t be shaken from my mind. Meanwhile, personal preoccupations were banging in my head. But as the day went on, the sky cleared and the sun brightened the events: I got my papers back and my grades were A- and two A’s. I also got A’s on my two midterms. Such an outcome brought me reward and relief like I hadn’t yet felt in February. The hard work was, after all, worth it because I succeeded in what I most love to do: reading and writing. The waves had been crashing hard on me, long and slow, and, because I focused so much on that stage, I forgot the waves would ripple away, but they did. And the five seconds of peace reverberated throughout.
This article was published in the Wall Street Journal Classroom Edition in February 2013.
The spring semester brought me a challenge with picking classes that I didn’t face in the fall. I decided to take physics but had to give it up for the sake of my writing time. Although it did not make sense to dedicate myself to a class completely outside of my major, I justified my decision as an academic challenge and different experience. The lesson I learned following my choice, however, is that there’s a significant difference between challenging oneself and mismanaging one’s time.
On my first Monday of classes, I attended the physics lecture, excited to dust off my calculus skills and study the behavior of the universe, as I did in high school for three years. The professor seemed helpful and engaging, but after the first day, there was a load of homework to do. By Friday, I realized that taking this class would overtake my time for my writing and major classes. My intuition whispered “Don’t take this class, Georgia” and I decided to follow it.
Physics is extremely interesting to me, but I made a bad choice in enrolling in a class for engineers, where I was the only creative-writing major, for obvious reasons.
Physics is extremely interesting to me, but I made a bad choice in enrolling in a class for engineers, where I was the only creative-writing major, for obvious reasons. The emotional conflict that overtook at the moment of my decision to drop it or not was foreign: last semester, all my classes were perfectly picked and fit in my schedule. But the idea of dropping out of a class that I wanted to succeed in evoked a sense of defeat, although I knew taking it would be more disadvantageous than not.
A couple of days after I dropped it, I got into a comparative-literature class that both challenged and complemented my academic endeavors well. Out of this schedule complication, I’ve learned that, yes, college is about experimentation, but it’s also about learning how to react when plans fail. This complication allowed me to identify whether a decision of mine would hurt me more than benefit me, thus preventing a bad decision from tainting the rest of my semester. My hopes for this semester are up high again!
This article was published in the Wall Street Journal Classroom Edition in January 2013.
It’s hard to believe but it’s true: My first semester in college is over.
It felt long because of all the changes. I moved from the East to the West Coast, started living away from family, read books at a much faster pace and wrote more academic papers than I considered possible. I learned life lessons and acquired a different sense of the world that could have taken years to develop on my own.
Yet, it also felt extremely fast, The semester was, in fact, only three and a half months. Crammed in these months, I learned a new language, made friends, visited different places and cities and broadened my worldview even more. Life really changed, and I can see the differences going back home and reflecting on this turbulent yet delightful college semester.
The first difference I’ve noted is I become a more fast-paced person by the day. Although I’m on break, I cannot relax all day, hang out or chat with relatives and friends. My mind constantly calls to read that Victorian novel that sounded interesting in literature class; write a piece of fiction about the dramatic episode I witnessed yesterday; or read the New Yorker to keep up with American politics.
College has a powerful way in teaching students a lesson that high school never does: the world never stops, and we are always part of it.
In addition, I’ve also developed different desires: to become more financially independent, to keep an eye out for internships and job opportunities. Although I’ve always carefully thought of the future, college has stimulated my focus on future even more, because it has shown me how much farther those who plan can go.
To give an example on a smaller scale, the dedicated students who valued Advance Placement classes and busied themselves with worthwhile extra-curricular activities, started college at a much higher level than anyone else. These students are the ones who spend more time working on what they love and skipping the boring introduction classes. In the same way, I’ve come to think, those who plan ahead while in college will also start ahead in the job market.
Surprising or not, I really look forward to starting a new semester in college. I’ve enjoyed my break with family, eaten the tasty food and rested on the comfortable bed, but I eagerly await the moment to be back on campus. College is not as easy as students fantasize about in high school: finals week is a killer time and earning a high GPA takes much greater effort than showing up to class. But the effort is worth it because college lets you learn about the world without actually being part of it. Students will probably never again have the grace of living on their own without worrying about electricity and water bills, and having the only obligation to learn and become successful.
My first semester of college has flown by because time was well spent. Every second of it was dedicated to academic and personal growth in a way that would have been impossible had I not been in college. After sending my goodbyes to first semester, my only wish is: let the second be even better!
This article was published in the Wall Street Journal Classroom Edition in December 2012.
It is hard to believe the end of my first semester in college is arriving, but there is one reason why time has seemed to fly by: I’ve been so busy and content with college life.
The reason is because USC, like other great universities, provides students with plenty of opportunities and resources that would be otherwise challenging to find in another context. Libraries rich with books, interesting classes, academic and cultural events, internships and research, networking, student jobs and a considerable chance of falling in love with different study areas; all bundled up and delivered as a student’s academic world.
I have immense passion and appreciation for books, so it is no surprise that I find libraries the most inviting places on campus, primarily for their unique ability to open up worlds with different stories, facts, ideas, countries, cultures and dreams.
Having been born and raised in Brazil, Portuguese is my first language, and so one day I decided to search for Brazilian literary books at a major library on campus. Enthusiasm overcame me when I found not only translations but original works by Clarice Lispector and Carlos Drummond de Andrade.
The variety of books available serve as stimulus for a more energetic intellectual community, which should be taken advantage of.
In addition to those, I’ve been able to check out the latest fiction books, sparing myself from spending money on new paperbacks and providing me with the additional thrill of walking around stacks with thousands of books.
Even better than outstanding availability of books is the chance to hear authors read and discuss their works. In early November, USC hosted a reading by T.C. Boyle, and he read a couple of his short stories and answered questions from the audience.
The university also has “Visions and Voices,” a series of events that promote the arts in theater, music, writing, as well as social engagement. I’ve attended operas based on Shakespearian works, talks with social activists and singing workshops, and I am satisfied with my cultural enrichment in college.
Events like these are valuable because students can experience a bit of their desired career fields and become inspired by successful role models.
The beauty of college is being part of a community dedicated to evolving and becoming more knowledgeable, and fortunately there are plenty of ways to explore academic passions differently. As classes come to an end and finals week approaches, I look forward to what’s coming next spring.
This article was published in the Daily Trojan online and in print in February 2013.
The Department of Public Safety at Curry College, a small liberal arts college in Milton, Mass., waited nearly a week to notify students about a group rape of a highly intoxicated college student, according to The Boston Globe.
Curry College did its students a service by waiting for the three suspected aggressors to be arrested on Jan. 25 before notifying students of the assault. An informative email was sent on Monday, Jan. 28. Because of the weekend delay, the administration was suspected of suppressing the news and neglecting to warn the community about danger.
Some might feel scared at the notion that the administration was attempting to keep information from them, but one must take all of the facts into account. Gang rape is a brutal crime and the college has the job of protecting everyone at the school — including the victim. Catching the perpetrators is the first priority and the college’s response was completely appropriate for the circumstances.
Curry College properly waited to release factual information about the rape until the men accused of the crime were arrested so that students would not be misinformed. In this 24-hour news cycle, where information is released every minute on various online platforms, accuracy and truth become undervalued, allowing inaccurate information to flood the public. Hasty delivery of news often distorts correct information and compromises an institution’s credibility as a trustworthy news source.
It is better for the public to be well-informed than to quickly be given improper information, especially on a campus, where students depend mainly on the college’s news releases for information regarding safety.
Accuracy takes time, and Curry College administrators had to vet the email to ensure its quality and accuracy; thus, the email was delayed for several days. If there is no immediate threat, colleges should not frighten its students with emergency alerts.
Even if the email had been sent late on Friday or during the weekend, the college could have easily been suspected of releasing information when the community was least likely to be attentive to administrative releases.
It is also important to consider that Curry College ensured the community’s safety first by having the accused arrested, instead of preoccupying students with possibly inaccurate news, news that would not have given students enough information to be useful. Frances Jackson, the college’s spokeswoman, said Curry properly followed ongoing procedures of the city’s police force first and released a warning email to the community later, when danger had already been dissipated.
The college administration’s actions would have been far more worrisome if the suspects’ arrests had not been ensured, or even worse, if the crime had been hushed altogether without any information released.
Though speed of news delivery is important, it should not overcome the need for accuracy so that news sources can remain reliable. Colleges should be encouraged to take preventive and reactive measures toward public safety first and inform their communities shortly thereafter.